Civil Conversation

September 17th, 2018

At our Men’s Group meeting last week, the goal of the evening was to look for ways to have a conversation about politics without acrimony or ill-feeling.

We followed guidelines from a web site set up to promote such conversation; it’s called Better Angels. We especially focussed on listening to each other and were careful to speak in emotionally neutral terms when possible. This worked well in Incarnation’s Broad Church tradition.

In the end, many different opinions were expressed while the general good feeling of the group was preserved. I think we all agreed that sharing our views without venting was cathartic. It might even have helped us to broaden our views.

Would that our political leaders could do the same. —J. Douglas Ousley


Tone Deaf?

September 11th, 2018

In my sermon last Sunday, I compared the aptitude to religion to being able to distinguish different notes in music. For those who are technically “tone deaf,” all notes sound pretty much the same–so they are unable to hear music.

Now some people believe that they are tone deaf to religion. They can’t see the purpose of prayer or worship. The entire business of faith escapes them.

But Christians would claim that no one is spiritually tone deaf. Everyone has the capacity to sense God at some level, in some way. Or if they can’t sense God, they still can–like Mother Teresa of Calcutta in her later days–find fulfillment in following the way of Jesus Christ.

People who feel tone deaf to religion have many options. But in the end, what I think these persons need most is patience. Patience in approaching the Spirit, of course, but patience also with themselves. —J. Douglas Ousley


A Great Episcopalian

August 27th, 2018

While John McCain attended a Baptist church with his wife, he never officially left the Episcopal Church in which he was raised. He often spoke of his faith in God, especially as it helped him to endure the long years in the brutal Hanoi prison.

Moreover, McCain’s funeral will be held in the National Cathedral, which is of course Episcopalian.

So I am going to claim him for our church–as an example of courage, generosity, openness, unselfishness, and just plain niceness. All Christians and other people of faith can be encouraged by his example.

A great Episcopalian. While he was only tangentially an Episcopalian, he was unquestionably great. —J. Douglas Ousley


This is the Day…

August 20th, 2018

This morning, our organist, Levente Medveczky underwent surgery for the second time in two weeks. While we are hopeful he will eventually return to work, he looks to have a substantial recovery ahead of him.

Scarcely a month ago, Levente was doing fine. Life was going well; he was 27-years-old and off to China to given organ lessons.

Now his mother and brother have journeyed from Hungary to care for him and help him to make medical decisions for his future treatments.

The opening for Morning Prayer in Easter Season is, “This is the day which the Lord hath made; we will be glad and rejoice in it.” As we remember that health is a gift and each day was made by God, let us also remember to rejoice and give thanks for the time we have before us. —J. Douglas Ousley


God’s Sense of Humor

August 14th, 2018

I had written a sermon that I had been thinking about for a couple of months; it was on the text, “Do not let the sun go down upon your anger.”

Sure enough, the day before the sermon, I got into an argument with a friend. I was furious–in fact, I was furious all the way through Sunday, during which time I gave three versions of a sermon on how Christians should deal with their anger.

I am by no means sure that God intended the coincidence of argument and sermon. But I am sure that, for me, this was a teaching moment!

I made it up with my friend. And I will not be surprised in the future to see if I again think that God has a sense of humor. —J. Douglas Ousley


Showing Up

August 6th, 2018

A recent article in the Church Times of London noted that many recent marketing schemes for the Church of England have failed. The author, Richard Nicholl suggested that instead of trying to attract new members with gimmicky campaigns, they should learn from companies like Facebook and Amazon–which never need to advertise.

First, like these companies, the church needs to show that “everyone else is in on it.” That means, says Nicholl, that those who are already members have to show up “every week, preferably without fail…It is existential. Just as ‘everyone else’ is on Facebook, ‘everyone else’ should be at church. We have an obligation to the Church and to one another…” The least we can do is show up.

Second, the Church “must, above all, be somewhere that people feel obliged to go, but do not resent attending.” As Nicholl sees it, this is not the same thing as being a place people want to go. Churches are so diverse that people will always find them a bit difficult. But if the liturgy is regular and familiar and there are other attractive programs, we will be able to participate regularly and faithfully–as Nicholl says, to “do what you know in your heart that you have to do.” —J. Douglas Ousley


Privacy and Illness

July 31st, 2018

The Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church recently announced that he was about to undergo surgery for prostate cancer. This news was an example of a general trend of public figures being open about their health issues. The Presiding Bishop, the Most Rev. Michael Curry didn’t give many details of his illness, but the fact that he was undergoing the most radical treatment for this form of cancer–removal of the prostate–suggests that the sickness was serious.

We might contrast this announcement with the late Pope John Paul II’s reluctance to share any information about an illness that was increasingly apparent to all who saw him. Only after his death was it revealed that he was suffering from Parkinson’s disease, even though many observers suspected as much. In any event, his suffering without complaint was heroic.

I don’t think there is a hard and fast rule whether celebrities should reveal their problems or not. In their shoes, I think that I would be reticent to say anything but I can’t be sure of that.

One advantage of going public, though, is that you will be sure to get more people praying for you. And that, surely, would be a blessing. —J. Douglas Ousley


Rebranding Jesus

July 25th, 2018

The recent General Convention of the Episcopal Church enthusiastically endorsed the Presiding Bishop’s priorities of evangelism, racial reconciliation, and care for the earth.

While these priorities are uncontroversial, they are very different. Dealing with racism and the environment will take years of effort and are social issues for non-Christians as well as Christians. Evangelism, on the other hand, is a pressing need specifically for Episcopalians whose ranks have been declining for decades. And if our evangelism isn’t successful, there won’t be any church to care for the environment or work for racial harmony.

Episcopalians have always found it easier to start a social program than to convince people to join their church. Presiding Bishop Michael Curry is pushing the idea that we are members of the Episcopal branch of the Jesus Movement. Whether that rebranding will help us to add to our rolls remains to be seen. —J. Douglas Ousley


Top Heavy

July 9th, 2018

Apparently it was a priority, since it was one of the first resolutions passed. The General Convention of the Episcopal Church (#GC79) meeting  last week in Austin, Texas, agreed to pay the President of the House of Deputies for her work for the church. One estimate was a total cost to the church (in addition to money already being spent for staff and travel) of $300,000 a year.

The fact that she, like all other Presidents, had been working for free–the additional fact that the church was searching for money to plant churches and staunch its precipitous decline–the additional fact that the church already has a charismatic leader, the Presiding Bishop: all these facts were not enough to counter the “justice” argument that the chief representative of the priests and laypeople should get paid.

No doubt, there is much to be said for this move. But it seems to send a poor message to the church–especially to give the humble servant a $200K+ salary while churches are closing and many priests can’t be paid a full-time minimum stipend. —J. Douglas Ousley


Correction: It Matters What We Say

July 2nd, 2018

I want to correct something I said last week. On the contrary to what I wrote, it does matter what we say.

As Jesus said, it is “what comes out of the mouth” that counts. Media and especially social media have been critical in calling attention to the plight of migrant families. Earlier in the year, the voices of abused women toppled many powerful men from their influential positions.

I was wrong. Jesus was right. —J. Douglas Ousley